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Some Comments On Communism in China

A sociology professor’s comments on the nature and fate of the Chinese Communist Party.

Some Facts About Communism

Suppose you meet someone at a party, right here in Ottawa, and he tells everyone that he is a Nazi. How welcome would he be? But suppose someone else at the party tells everyone that he is a Communist. Someone might say, "Oh, how interesting!" Something is wrong in Canada. People have forgotten what communism is. I would like to mention four facts about communism. They do not constitute a formal definition. They are just some of the things I would like to point out to people at that party.

Fact #1 The sole aim of communism is to gain and hold onto power

No moral principle can get in the way of this end. Lies and deceit are justified in the pursuit of power. Mao showed this. Before 1949, he promised land to the peasants. They never got it; the state took it over.

Even mass killing is permissible. Some say that there have been 65 million victims of the Maoist regime. The government of China killed 65 million people because to communists, seeking and holding onto power is all that matters.

Fact #2 Communism tries to gain total control

One way to express this is to say that the party swallows up the state and the state swallows up the society. "The party swallows up the state" means that a freely elected parliament becomes a rubber stamp for the party. "The state swallows up the society" means that the state either destroys or takes control of all independent groups-labor unions, religious groups, businesses, and schools.

Or it tries to do so. But in reality communism can’t control everything. No state can fully monitor every person in his private life—every act, every conversation, every thought. There just can’t be enough secret police, and they can’t build enough jails. This was true even under Stalin and Mao.

Let me tell you about a very small experience I had which illustrates this. In 1980 I was in Berlin, and I took the train into the Communist part of the city. While I was there, a couple of teenagers asked me what I thought of the German Democratic Republic. I said, "You need a revolution!" They hushed me up, but they also grinned: They wanted me to say that. My point is that even in a dictatorship, those who oppose it can sometimes say what they think.

Fact #3 Communism uses war to gain power

The Soviet Union did this after the war. Its soldiers stayed on in Eastern Europe after they had driven the Germans out, to ensure that those countries would be controlled by Stalin.{mospagebreak}

And recently we read in The Epoch Times the horrifying words of General Chi Haotian, the man who carried out the massacre at Tiananmen Square. He said quite clearly that if it is necessary to save the party, China should start a nuclear war which would kill many millions.

Fact #4 Communism is an anti-religious religion

We know that communism is atheistic, and that it claims to be the enemy of all religion.

It has, however, many of the features of religion. One of these is that religious belief is based on faith. Religious people will agree that belief in God, for example, cannot be justified by logic and evidence.

Today, in China, faith in communism and in the religion of communism, is all but dead.

But there was a time when this was not so. Before Mao came to power in 1949, many in China fell for his golden promises. They had faith.

Even in Western countries, in the 1930s and the early 1940s, many thousands had faith in communism. This was so even in Canada, where a Communist was once elected to Parliament. His name was Fred Rose. He was elected in 1943. In 1945, he was re-elected. In 1947, he was exposed as a Soviet spy and went to prison.

How could so many have believed in communism? Didn’t they know that World Communism has killed millions of people? Didn’t they know what Stalin and Mao were really like? The history of communism was not a big secret; anyone could have read about it and learned the truth.

The fact is that they didn’t want to know. They thought they had a higher land of knowledge—knowledge based on faith. It was a faith in a future society where there would be no exploitation of man by man, where people would be happier than they had ever been. It is this faith that marks communism as a religion—a fraudulent, deluded religion, but a religion, nonetheless.

The Western Response to Communism

Given these facts about communism, how has the West responded?

One response is something called appeasement. This term become popular in the 1930s, when the challenge was not communism but Nazism. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain tried appeasement when he gave Hitler some of what he demanded, hoping that he would not take any more. "An appeaser," said Churchill, "is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last." Hitler then conquered most of Europe. Chamberlain’s appeasement policy was a disaster. It was totally discredited.{mospagebreak}

Or was it? In our time, in our relations with communism, we have seen a revival of appeasement. For years, the United States and the West sought something called "detente." The idea was to speak tactfully, expand trade, and thus "reduce tensions." Once again, appeasement didn’t work. The Soviet Union and the Cold War just went on and on.

Then along came Ronald Reagan. He didn’t want war. But he knew something that many others did not realize: That the West could defeat the Soviet Union, and that this could be done without starting a war. To this end, he abandoned detente.

Instead, he embarked on an expensive weapons program which the Soviets could not afford to match.

He cut back on trade, which made the Soviet economic crisis even worse than it was.

He increased the transmitting power of Radio Free Europe to counter Soviet jamming of the airwaves.

The important thing about Reagan’s policy is that it worked. The Soviet Union is no more, and much of the credit for its demise goes to him.

But now, in spite of the miserable history of appeasement, and in spite of Reagan’s success, something unbelievable is happening: The Canadian government, in its approach to China, is trying appeasement again!

Our government has increased trade, in order to improve ties with China.

Right now the Prime Minister is entertaining Chairman Hu Jintao as an honored guest. Mr. Martin is out to lunch. What we need is a policy like Reagan’s.

For example, we should give money to Radio Free Asia, which broadcasts into China. This would encourage the people, by providing them with honest news.

We should stop all aid to China. Right now our tax money is being sent to shore up a government which is arming to the teeth, which is spying on us, and which is the most murderous government in history.

We should also eliminate all trade with China.

It should be illegal for any Canadian to invest in China.{mospagebreak}

It should be illegal for any Chinese business to invest in Canada.

The Future of Communism in China

Given the facts about communism, and given Canada’s appeasement of China, what is the future of communism there? Whether we appease the communists or not, communism in China is doomed. No one knows exactly when or how it will end. But the leaders have clearly put themselves in an impossible situation.

As an economic system, communism didn’t work in China. For a number of years, the Chinese leaders have been promoting capitalism. But capitalism only works if people can exercise initiative and energy. Communist terror in Chinese boardrooms would hardly encourage bold initiatives. The government knows that, and it has given up some of the power which is the sole aim of communism. Clearly this is a defeat.

These men are in a trap. Their power is shrinking, and not only because of their encouragement of business. Nowadays, a protest happens somewhere in China every seven minutes. The protest may be against corruption, or it may be against the ecological damage caused by government policies. But the authorities, if they crack down, will bring back the economic stagnation which they wanted to overcome. If, on the other hand, they allow change to continue, they will only undermine their own power.

One of the things they fear most is Falun Gong, an organization which is in some ways like the Solidarity movement in Poland.

Solidarity, of course, began as a labor movement. But its membership grew, and it became the greatest challenge to the Polish government. Falun Gong began as a program of exercise, meditation, and the pursuit of humane ideals. But its character has changed with circumstances, and has grown to the point that now no one knows how many members it has. Some say there are 60 million; others say there are many more. Its members have endured torture and persecution, but they have not given up. They have become the largest group in China resisting communism. Thus, although Solidarity was a movement of Roman Catholics whereas Falun Gong emerged from Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism, each began as an effort for mere social reform, and each was transformed into a fundamental challenge to the political system. The similarity of the two movements, therefore, is not theological but sociological. In an sociological sense, Falun Gong is the Chinese Solidarity movement.

With the Chinese leaders under so much pressure, what will they do? No one knows, of course, what will happen. But maybe the experiences of Mikhail Gorbachev enables us to make a prediction. He took tentative steps toward liberalization. The people, in response, expressed their support, and he brought about further liberalization. After a few years, the toothpaste of communism was out of the tube, and nobody could squeeze it back in.{mospagebreak}

Of course, Gorbachev didn’t want to end communism. He wanted to reform it. But remember what John Paul II said: Gorbachev was a good man, but he wanted to reform communism, and communism cannot be reformed.

Let’s remember that a free country can be reformed. I was in Berkeley, California, in the late 1960s. It was a radical time. There were demonstrations and riots, and even talk of revolution. Yet there was never the slightest chance that the U.S. government would be overthrown. A free society permits protest. It is resilient. It can reform itself. But communism is not resilient. With all its huffing and puffing, it cannot stand up to challenge. When Gorbachev tried to reform it, it collapsed.

Surely, communism in China may go the way of communism in the Soviet Union. Someone like Gorbachev will appear, and make some gesture toward liberalization, in fact, someone like Gorbachev has appeared: Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang. He wanted liberalization. He supported the Tiananmen protesters, and he was punished for that. But there are other liberals among the leadership, and there will be another Chinese Gorbachev.

The future of China is assured. The people will become bolder, the old leaders will become more disheartened, and freedom will come to China. Soon.

Barclay D. Johnson is a retired professor of sociology in Canada. The articel is based on his speech at the "Focus on China" forum held at the University of Ottawa on September 8, 2005. The author wishes to thank Simha Murphy, Elaine Loubser, and Barbars Grisdale for their critical comments of this speech while preparing it for publication.